‘Why can’t a girl from Soweto become a mermaid?’ Mohale Mashigo chats about her new book, Intruders
More about the book!
Mohale Mashigo chatted to The Reading List about her new book, Intruders.
The Introduction to Intruders is an interesting collection of thoughts about Afrofuturism and Speculative Fiction in Africa. Were these things you have been thinking about for a while, or did your opinion coalesce when you were writing in this genre yourself?
I’ve been thinking about Afrofuturism for a while now and it was around the time when Black Panther was released. I loved the movie but there was an energy around it that made me wary. I could just see South Africans taking this Afrofuturism thing and running with it. Saw a few adverts going in that direction – once the advertising people have it then it’s over. So I wrote the essay and was afraid to kill everyone’s Black Panther high, so I just stuck in the book while I finished off a few stories.
Your characters are universal, and you place them in a familiar, sometimes scary, South African context. What this something you were thinking about when you wrote the stories?
I love comics, scary movies and I was just so sick of not seeing people like me or people I grew up around so I decided to Intrude and bring all my people with me. Why can’t a girl from Soweto become a mermaid? Why no werewolves from Mitchells Plain, and so on. I wanted us to know that we belong everywhere and we will intrude with our own folklore and urban legend if need be.
In the Introduction you suggest that we need a new term for books that ‘imagine futures’ or ‘reimagine a fantasy present’ in Africa. Have you had any readers suggesting a new word for this type of fiction yet?
No, not yet, but I’m sure it will be spectacular to hear what people come up with.
They say you can’t write short stories without reading them. Are you a fan of short fiction? Which writers do you enjoy, and are there any who have influenced your writing?
Uh-oh! I was never been a fan of short stories in my younger days and I am finding myself more and more attracted to collections of stories. I recently read Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez and she had me with each story. She’s definitely made me a better reader and writer.
Your fellow author Shubnum Khan did the cover illustration and the illustrations that divide the sections of the book. Can you chat a little about how that collaboration came about?
It happened on Twitter. I was discussing the collection and she asked if she could please do the illustrations. I love how gentle Shubnum’s work is. She really added a beautiful touch to Intruders.
A lot of the book is inspired by South African folklore – did you do any research in this area, or did you draw on stories you have been told?
I did some research for the last story because I couldn’t quite remember how the story of Tselane ends. Seems there are many versions of the story. Other than that I just used what I grew up hearing (urban legends like Vera the ghost and others).
You’ve spoken about how the characters you focus on are the types of people usually at the margins, and that you wanted them to be allowed to ‘intrude’ on us. Was this an idea you had from the beginning, or did it become a theme as you were working on the book?
I’ve always wanted to write stories about ordinary or overlooked people intruding into spec fic (or whatever the genre is). I was so tired of watching Will Smith save the world, Hell’s Kitchen having their own ‘devil’, and so on. That stuff made me feel like I wasn’t part of the world of wonder, vampires, mermaids etc.
Quaggas, The Gruffalo, mermaids, werewolves, trainsurfing, Debora Patta, your references are diverse: global but also wonderfully local, which adds a real liveliness to the book.
I’ve always been curious about how people live their lives and why. When I was a little girl we would drive past people’s houses and I would try to imagine what it was like inside and make up stories about the people. Sometimes I find myself researching dinosaur bones found in Southern Africa – for no real reason, just because I’m curious.
You’ve now written a novel, a Young Adult novel, comic books, and a book of short stories. Are the processes very different, or can you take what you have learnt during one project and use it in another?
Storytelling is all the same for me. I will say working with visual artists like Clyde and Loyiso on Kwezi did teach me how to make the words count because we already have the visual elements. Other than that, a story comes to me and I tell it the way it demands to be told.
Could you share a bit with us about what you are working on next?
Oh gosh! It’s supposed to be a love story but it is morphing into something else after I read a piece about Ezekiel Dhlamini (whose life inspired the musical King Kong). My curiosity takes me to strange places. I don’t know where it’s all going but it will come together when it’s ready.